Any reader of Richard Dawkins, the biologist and New Atheist, is well acquainted with his coining the word, "meme." Once you hear it described, its explanatory power seems undeniable.
"Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." Specifically, imitation of what is heard, whether ideas, beliefs or slogans, repeated to others who, themselves, repeat the process.
Just as Dawkins defined the meme -- particularly applied to religion -- the term itself soon took off as its own meme. Memes are now recognized throughout our conversations, on every conceivable topic, trivial and serious alike.
Note that the meme, by itself, carries no necessary logical force. It may sound logically forceful. But like loud flatulence, the force is largely in the brute exertion of the presenter.
Speaking of gas ...
A current, notable example of the power of memes, are those continually repeated in defense of massive, world wide, liquefied natural gas (LNG) proposals.
Over the past year, as I've watched and listened to politicians, fossil fuel industries, and their various supporters defend LNG, it's evident the meme propagation is alive and well.
Which LNG memes are the sneakiest?
Without scientific justification, by ignoring the vast majority of climate scientists, and the eighteen scientific associations they belong to, the LNG supporter memes:
"The science is still being debated."
Recall the meme's lack of logical force? And yet this particular meme has been highly successful. It flouts the scientific fact of climate change, and eschews thousands of peer-reviewed articles in the world's most prestigious science journals.
This meme, nakedly and joyfully, ignores it all. (Sometimes it's accompanied by a webpage link to a blog run by a denier, but with no Ph.D. in climate sciences, with no competing peer-reviewed article.)
The meme replicates in spite of the contrary evidence.
What better (or worse) example do you want for the psychological power of the meme? Just bear in mind another disturbing characteristic of the meme: It is an amoral entity and has no scruples about doubling down against reality.
Meme #2: With corporations and our duplicitous politicians now recognizing the general public is starting to believe the science of climate change, the meme changes gears.
The LNG, meme-emphasis, is no longer concentrated on denying climate change (although it'll continue to be used where it works -- like strafing -- to take down any stragglers). Instead, a new meme has largely taken over with this dandy:
"LNG is necessary as a 'transitional fuel,'" (usually stated without adding the modifier "fossil." After all, why remind people it, too, is fossil fuel?)
But you ask, "Why do we need a transitional fossil fuel?" The accompanying sub-meme is then presented: "Renewable, sustainable energies [supposedly] need much more time to develop as viable alternatives."
OK. Fossil fuels like coal have been around since the cave man. After thousands of years of use, there will be a need for transition. So how much time is needed as we reduce, reinvent, reinstall, retool, refit, and bolster regulations on efficiency? Five years? Perhaps ten?
No. The astonishing thing is how this LNG meme can be so brazen. They readily admit 100 years of "transition."
At least we can be glad the defenders of the "transition-meme" belie its subversive quality. This meme is merely another tactic to continue the addiction to fossil fuel. And just as the present-day, fossil fuel industry fights serious attempts to promote sustainable energies -- with a 100 year time line -- you can take it for granted that even if there is a humanity after one hundred years of further fossil fuel use, the industry will be just as intransigent to change as they are today.
The problem with addiction isn't allowing more time for change. It's the desire for change.
Meme #3: This meme follows the above "transitional fuel" meme: "Renewables aren't ready. The technology isn't there yet."
Just like denying the serious science of climate change, this is denial of the serious science of advancements in renewable, sustainable energies. Developments made on a weekly basis. It's also baleful ignorance of how communities and countries around the world -- not willing to wait 100 more years -- are making the transition to renewables right now.
Meme #4: "The Hypocrite meme." This is my favorite.
It goes like this: "Against fossil fuel?" they boldly state. "Well, don't you know that everything in your house is made out of the product? Your cell phone? Computer? Drive a car? A truck? Fly in a plane?" Then the clincher-meme: "You are a hypocrite. Quit using these products if you oppose the fossil fuel industry."
Why is this my favorite meme? Because it very nicely points out the very problem with our addiction to fossil fuel.
Over the decades -- even centuries -- the fossil fuel industry has been able to saturate every facet of our lives. We are indeed immersed in the product. And, like the drug addict, we are now addicted to the product. And the effects -- particularly with the carcinogenic -- are everywhere.
But wait. This is our argument, not theirs. It's exactly because our world is saturated with the fossil fuel product that we want to extricate ourselves from the mire.
So we are looking for alternatives. But where are they? When I pull up to the pumps, where's the biofuel alternative? Instead of the coal-fired grid, where do I sign up for the solar panels for my house? To plug into the wind turbine farm? Charge me with hypocrisy when, with the biofuel and petrol side by side, I choose the petrol.
Which begs the question: with the alternatives clearly in place, who'd chose the fossil fuel? Nobody. And that's what the the fossil fuel industry wants to avoid at all costs.
Lastly, it's important to point out the real hypocrisy with this meme. The people who typically recite it sometimes live in natural splendor. For example, where I live in British Columbia, Canada, there are a few too many supporters of the LNG nightmare. Yet they then sit back and enjoy the clean air. Beside the clean water, lakes and ocean. The forests. Usually living in communities right beside such enchantment.
Talk about hypocrisy.
If one really wants to drag on the use of fossil fuel for the next 100 years -- to follow the logic -- don't live in the very place you don't wish to defend. Instead, move to the exact place where the fossil fuel industry reigns. The tarsands. Beside the fracking pads. Beside the leaking pipelines. Then the defenders of LNG would actually live consistently with their funniest meme: "That industry and recreation can happily live together"!
Well then, by all means folks. Go and live the dream.